The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois narrowly escapes FAU in final nonconference game of 2023

James Hoeck
Wide receiver Isaiah Williams runs within the end zone moments before a touchdown is made for the Illini against Florida on Saturday.

Illinois (2-2, 0-1) entered week four of the 2023 season with a revitalized defense but questionable offense after a putrid loss to No. 7 Penn State a week prior. The bright side? The Illini schedule from this week on is the second easiest in the Big Ten, while their first three were the third-hardest across the FBS.

The visiting Florida Atlantic Owls (1-3) entered with the same record but with a huge piece missing on offense. The regular starting quarterback Casey Thompson tore his ACL a week prior as Clemson blew out FAU. The teams battled through a close contest, with the Illini taking the victory by a 23-17 score.

For the fourth game in a row, sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer and the Illini offense started with the ball. Altmyer looked precise on his first drive as junior wide receiver Isaiah Williams racked up 32 yards; however, the drive was stopped as junior running back Reggie Love failed to convert on fourth down.

The Illini defense stepped up on their first drive, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Owls but ultimately making the visitors punt. On the ensuing drive, Altmyer was strip-sacked and the Owls took over in prime field position. The Owls took advantage by getting a field goal on the board, but the Illini defense stood strong in the red zone.

Altmyer’s performance was a big focus for head coach Bret Bielema and the coaching staff after a difficult outing versus Penn State, but Altmyer spoke about his teammates being supportive of him in a time of adversity.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

“The teammates on this roster are just so encouraging, there are so many special people on the team who never lose sight of our goals,” Altmyer said. “It’s easy to dwindle down and get down on yourself after that, but we never hit the panic button on that or lost sight of what we had prepared to do this week.”

The offense did not do themselves any favors following the score, as they went three and out, with Altmyer being rocked on a third down sack for a loss of seven. The ensuing punt return had an extra 15 yards tacked on via an unnecessary roughness penalty on Illinois. The great field position helped the Owls take a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

Illinois needed a score in the worst way possible, and a flea-flicker reverse got it done. Altmyer launched the ball deep to junior tight end Griffin Moore for a 46-yard touchdown, making it a 10-7 game. A plethora of defensive stops by both teams defined the majority of the second quarter.

However, Altmyer threw a dart downfield to junior tight end Tip Reiman for a 42-yard gain. Altmyer followed up with a seven-yard rushing touchdown to put Illinois up 14-10 near the end of the first half. The Illini attempted to get something before the half ended but failed to do so as they took a 14-10 lead into the locker room.

The Illini defense started the second half with a stop, led by a sack from junior defensive tackle Keith Randolph Jr., forcing a punt from the Owls. Altmyer and the Illini offense advanced deep down the field via a “moss” catch by Williams, followed by a 15-yard penalty to get into the red zone. Redshirt freshman running back Aidan Laughery took it in for a touchdown, making it a 20-10 Illinois lead after the extra point attempt doinked off the right post.

After the game, Randolph gave his fellow linemen high praise, putting them amongst the nation’s most elite front seven groups.

“I feel like we’re one of the best in the country when everybody is playing at their best,” Randolph said. “Now, it’s about being consistent and doing it every play and game.”

The Owls made their way downfield on their next drive, aided by a pair of bad penalties by the Illini defense. The defense held strong, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed wide right. Love took off for a 61-yard run following the missed field goal, setting the Illini deep in enemy territory. The Illini had a touchdown on the board before a holding call nullified it, which forced the Illini to kick a field goal, making it a 23-10 game.

The FAU defense forced a fumble deep in Illinois territory, starting from the 13-yard line in the red zone. Senior defensive back Nicario Harper made a great play on a ball in midair, coming down with an end-zone interception. After a couple of defensive stops, the Owls got back into the endzone, securing their first points since the first quarter to make it a 23-17 game.

Bielema praised the defense first and foremost at his postgame press conference.

“It’s exciting to come out with a win,” Bielema said. “I liked our perseverance, I think the story of the day was by far our defense.”

Freshman running back Kaden Feagin iced the game on a solid run up the middle, going down before the endzone to solidify an Illini win.

Bielema spoke highly of Feagin’s decision to slide down, saying it was the right move.

“We call that grind to get down,” Bielema said. “To have him have the awareness to get down and win the game was just awesome.”

The Illini travel to West Lafayette for their first road conference game of the year, facing off against a familiar opponent. Purdue (1-3, 0-1) head coach Ryan Walters will have his first chance to coach against his former team, who had arguably the best defense in the nation under his guidance a season ago.



[email protected]

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor
Hello! I’m Adam and I’m a senior majoring in journalism. I’m one of the assistant sports editors, and this is my second year with The DI. I love to talk about sports, so if you have any questions or desire to talk about a random athlete from 10 years ago or why Messi > Ronaldo, contact me at my email below!
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
ILLordle: Play now